C.A. junks oil firm’s bid to stop civil-forfeiture case filed by AMLC

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has given the go signal for the trial of the civil-forfeiture case filed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) against a local oil company accused of illegally importing petroleum products amounting to P10.4 billion.

In an 18-page decision penned by Associate Justice Manuel Barrios, the CA’s Special Eight Division denied the petition filed by Cross Country Oil and Petroleum Corp. and one of its major stockholders, Aleli Arellano. CCOPC sought the reversal of the August 30, 2016, resolution issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City denying its motion to dismiss the civil forfeiture complaint filed by the AMLC.

The CCOPC sought the dismissal of the civil-forfeiture case after the Department of Justice (DOJ) junked the criminal complaints for violation of Sections 3601 and 3602, in relation to Section 2530 of the Tariff Customs Code of the Philippines, filed by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

The first criminal complaint alleged that CCOPC unlawfully imported 961,943.2 metric tons of petroleum products with a dutiable value of P8.45 billion and fraudulently secured the issuance of a tax-credit certificate in its favor in the amount of P99.4 million.

The second criminal complaint alleged that the petitioner again unlawfully imported 81,176,336 liters of diesel with a dutiable value of P2.03 billion.

Subsequently, the BOC informed the AMLC on the possibility that CCOPC may be involved in money-laundering activities, considering that its paid-up capital was only P3.1 million, but it managed to import petroleum products worth P8.5 billion in 2010.

This prompted AMLC to seek for the freezing of the assets of CCOPC before the CA, which was granted in October 2011.

On April 16, 2012, the AMLC filed a petition for civil forfeiture with an urgent plea for the issuance of a provisional asset preservation order before the RTC in Makati City  against CCOPC. However, on July 20, 2012, the DOJ finally dismissed the criminal complaints against the oil company.

With this development, CCOPC moved for the lifting of the asset preservation order (APO), which was granted by the RTC in Makati City.

But the trial court denied CCOPC’s motion for the issuance of summary judgment seeking the dismissal of the case.

The petitioner argued that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion when it refused to dismiss AMLC’s civil case despite its finding of lack of probable cause for the issuance of a permanent APO.

It added that the trial court erred when it held that a trial is still necessary to sufficiently establish a predicate crime in a forfeiture proceeding.

In denying CCOPC’s petition, the CA agreed with the trial court that there is no basis to grant the petitioner’s motion for summary judgment considering that the issues presented by AMLC calls for the presentation of evidence.

“As said, notwithstanding the fact that the DOJ found no probable cause to institute criminal charges against petitioners, civil-forfeiture cases can still proceed,” the CA said.

“To rule otherwise would sustain the view that the court’s bounded duty under the law and applicable rules shall be merely secondary and entirely dependent upon the actions of the Executive,” it added.

The CA explained that, if it upheld CCOPC’s arguments, the courts in civil-forfeiture cases “would be rendered powerless to make determinations on its own without imprimatur of the Executive.”

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